Day 44, 17th August 2003

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Updated by Nina. Written up until Exeter, UK.

Before we knew it, the dust and smoke came off the landing wheels and we were on our home turf. We thanked the pilot with his south easy English accent, reassembled our bikes and panniers, said goodbye Non! Au revoir to the terminal staff, and sat outside the building on English soil. It was strange to be here so suddenly- we were so used to a different pace off travelling. I was not quite sure that I wanted to be home yet.

Cycling on the right was distinctly odd, and took much more getting used to than the other way. It was funny to have to turn ones head the opposite way to check for traffic. Roundabouts caused us the most problem. But within minutes we had cycled through an English village, together with birds tweeting, a hackney cab, a pillar-box, street signs such as 'Mill Road' and 'Icklesham', some council houses, a pub, and the beginnings of a pub brawl too. Oh it was good to be home after all. As a Devon girl, I think of England as full of hills, so was pleased to see ahead that there were none. Hurrah! And there were things we did not expect to see, such as drivers giving us plenty of room, and cycle route signs without a destination.

A very English house somewhere near Hastings
Photo 131. A very English house somewhere near Hastings

We gobbled fish, sausage and chips with pickled onions and ketchup for good measure. Even a seagull shat on me. Nice. We asked a lady walking her dog where might be good to use our 'rollmats' outdoors, and she suggested at length the wheat field down the river. It was nice to be able to communicate properly again. I phoned a friend, and tried to sleep, but it was damp and I had mozzies in quadraphonic sound. I was grumpy when I woke and had to push my bike back along the path through the brambles. And whoever said the South Coast did not have many hills was lying.

We had Happy Shopper white sliced bread and bananas so old they were crunchy for breakfast on the sea front at Hastings. I did the honour of telling Simon how he ought to drive which annoyed him, but little did I realise then that his bike had reverted back two hundred years to penny farthing standards and was working in only one gear. Later I would see him waving along the motorway shouting that he could not stop because now the one gear he had was a high one, and he did not want to lose momentum! The Sussex Downs were in sight.

We stopped for a drink, and I rang my middle sister Tania to pass on my condolences to her, as she passed congratulations back to me. I then phoned a family friend 'Auntie Mary' who had been my grandmothers bridesmaid in Exeter, but who now was 91 and lived in Worthing. My call must have taken her by surprise, but she asked me to join her at her cousin's house that afternoon, and she told me I would see her anon. Whatever that meant. I thought optimistically it would take only another hour from here, outside Lewes or is it Lewis, so we carried on pausing only for ice cream in gay Brighton. We had another money crisis and were forced to convert 35 euros into 22 pounds. Our spend for the entire trip equated in real terms to approximately 30 shillings each.

Brighton and what was its fine pavillion
Photo 132. Brighton and what was its fine pavillion

Finally three hours late, we arrived in little Lancing, where I ran past the beach huts to the sea to have a dip in the sea. It was now three and a half days since I had had a proper shower. The water was warm and I would have loved to spend more time there paddling, but I was expected.

Before long I was welcomed in and fed fresh tea and fresh biscuits in bulk. The word fresh I thought was usually better applied to fruit and veg, but any way... Mary and her cousin were struggling with the temperature- although mild by my standards, and they found in the heat it difficult to remember names and details. But this trip has really bought my family together. Gordon has been in regular contact with my dad's sister Doreen, and Doreen has been ringing my sisters for regular updates. Mary was impressed with Roy's diary, and said she wished she had known about it when my dad was ill 'I could have talked to your dad in hospital about all this'.

Mary and her cousin, poring over the diary
Photo 133. Mary and her cousin, poring over the diary

We had a lovely afternoon, and waved goodbye at them standing on the retirement apartment steps; as we headed for the oncoming traffic driving on the left. How dare they! Her cousin had been hard of hearing, and so I was not sure how much of the conversation she had understood, because her smiling face when we left, looked as if she only just finally twigged what it was we were doing. It was a lovely sunny evening, and I was quietly pleased when I landed hard on a rock and got a puncture and we had to stop- especially given as it was in the same moment I saw my signpost for Ferring (the place my dad had celebrated his degree results with cider fifty years ago that evening).

We too found a roadside inn, called the Worlds End, which I thought rather apt as I fixed two inner tubes. When our trendy but hearty food arrived, we went inside to the warm, which was pleasant. When bed time soon came, I wanted to sleep in the beer garden, for variation if nothing else. Simon thought it was a stupid, uncomfortable and risky place to sleep, which of course it was, but I was too tired to care, and mostly too tired to walk some where else. I pigheadedly went to sleep, muttering the words 'You are not my bloody body guard you know'. Realised for the first time in my life that really I am quite adventurous actually!

My inner tube repair was a duff I realised with a sinking feeling on waking, and the picturesque river we had been so near in the garden was a fake one they turned off when the pub shuts. So I put a new inner in, praying that that one would not go. In two days time I would not miss the puncture problems. We proceeded onto Bognor to be told the way exactly as I could already see on the map. We were tired, but beautiful Chichester cheered us up, and in Havant I went to the library to check out the exact route through the busy conurbation of Southampton. Thus I was furious when Simon cycled off down a hill, missing the road for Fareham and Cosham, nearly making if five places my dad had mentioned in his diary that we missed. We retraced our steps and I later bought him his favourite drink that we had had in France; canned Iced Tea, although it did not really make up for my unreasonable outrage. We later dozed by a riverside and felt better, but did a massive D Tour returning back to our original position, due to some confusing road signs.

We stopped at Tescos for food in yacht- ey Hamble, and bombed through not so lovely Southampton. We were jubilant when we got to the other side alive. The New Forest was over quickly, cold but oh my saddle was sore. We saw the near-the-sea-light on the outskirts of Christchurch, and cycled on until stopping in a bus stop by a park. I bet this is Ilford Bridge I said- the only bit of green between here and Bournemouth. And bloody hell it was- and we were here still in time for food and a pint in the local pub (my dad and Gordon had cycled past midnight before stopping here).

It was drizzling when we left the pub, and we were banking on sleeping under some arches to stay dry and out of sight. It was a shock to shine a light and see someone else looking cosy and bedding down for the night. So there were other people doing the same thing as us and stealing our sleeping spots! Having now slept thirty nights rough, I know now that the biggest tragedy about being homeless is the awful circumstances that gets them there, not the actual sleeping outside. Unless of course you are homeless in Norway during winter of course.

We slept in a field at the back of some redbrick semis, and discovered that the waterproof bags we had been raving on about were simply not waterproof at all. But this was the last night we needed them anyway! We laughed as we packed our things for the last time; we had only another 84 miles to go. Funny Bournemouth had the only bakers I know which sells giant lardy cakes- and so that was breakfast. Four miles out of Dorchester Simon's tyre blows for the first time in our whole trip. He had put off buying new outers for his bike, as we were nearly home. 'Go on without me, I can meet you in Exeter' were his he said with an air of martyrdom. Simon was so glum by this stage I don't think Exeter would have wanted him,

When the next puncture came, I let out a satisfying shriek, while Simon opted for the stuffing the tyre with grass. Desperate times call for desperate measures and all that... A huge part of me was tempted to take up Simon's offer of cycling alone to Exeter, but no, I am relieved to say that I did the right thing. I was soon cycling ahead to an overstocked bike shop in town to get new ones, and fortunately as it turned out later, a new inner tube for me too. I returned to a convenient grassy spot and felt refreshed and optimistic when Simon joined me by foot. I swapped over his tyres for him and off we went, with chicken and mushroom pie for fuel.

We passed the Chideock hills and saw views of Lyme Bay. How I love green and pleasant England. We watched the Saturday market be disassembled from a bench in Bridport and then left there at 4pm. I got my 33rd puncture on a hill, and I could see a spoke had chipped off part of on my back wheel rim, but crumbs was I glad I had bought a spare inner for speed. We passed THE bus stop; that we shamefully had to use six weeks ago, and then past familiar Axminster and Honiton. Simon had not remembered all the hills; but I was surprised how much easier they all felt second time round.

The light began to fade, and I struggled with my job to avoid stones and speed. Simon careered past me waving at great speed on the downhills, on his rapidly deteriorating bike with its one gear. My knee was hurting and Simon and I agreed that we could not even do one more days cycling. Unbelievably I got another puncture only five miles outside Exeter, why were we being tested so much? I rode on the rim until we got off the main road, and contemplated walking the final miles. This was not going to beat us.

We had friends waiting in the pub, and as closing time was getting closer, they offered to pick us up. Absolutely No Way! Was the answer, I have not come 2427 miles by bike to do the final 5 by car. The bike is such an incredible and viable form of transport on its own. I fixed the inner in shadows, feeling with my mouth for the air hole. Quickly we were on the move again and when Simon asked if it was far now to South Avenue, I knew it was just round the corner.

Coming down in to the quiet residential street in the dark brought about strong feelings. This is what Daddy saw. This is what Daddy felt 50 years to the day. He must have enjoyed coming home. Who was congratulating him on his arrival? It was strange to be completing the circle, and for our finish line to be such a private and understated one. Had those 2432 miles really happened? We had been on the move for so long, that we had not the time to compute and take stock of what we had seen and done on the trip properly. We shook each others hands and hugged, and then sat on the warm tarmac. It was likely that we had cycled 142 miles more than they, and we had had a total of 36 puncture. Both our bikes had enough damage that could almost could not have been cycled the next day for any distance and our sleeping bags were sodden. We hurt, and mentally we realised that the whole trip had had been full of pressures. But we had fortunately met the challenge, and here we were safe and sound an hour away from our respective hometowns. And only 2 3/4 hours late!

I choked up and cried when I thought of how proud my dad would have been, and how much I would like to talk to him about the trip. Excuse the pun, that is unfortunately a part of our human life cycle that I have learnt to daily face. But as we pushed our bikes up the hill out of South Avenue, I took some Dorset chalk out of my front pannier bag, and wrote a message on the ground like the ones we had seen from the bicycle racing in France. 'Oui Gagnez 2432 miles' was not the correct use of the French verbs congugations, but I think 'Yes-We Did It-2432 Miles' fits our bill perfectly.

Yes we did it-2432 miles-3891 kilometres
Photo 377. Yes we did it-2432 miles-3891 kilometres